Preventing Blackouts

Understanding blackouts

A “blackout” happens when alcohol inhibits the brain’s memory-making process. A person is fully conscious while blackout, but their brain cannot form memories of what is happening.

  • A blackout is not passing out: a passed out person is unconscious.
  • Blackouts can be fragmentary, which is when some memories are not formed (colloquially referred to as a “brownout”). An “en bloc” blackout is a full loss of memory over an extended period of time.
  • During a blackout, a person is still active and making decisions. Since they are fully conscious, it is hard to tell if they are experiencing a blackout.
  • University policy holds all students responsible for their actions, whether under the influence or not, including their actions while experiencing a blackout.

Risk factors for a blackout

Blackouts are associated with a rapid rise in BAC. They do not only occur at extremely high BACs, but have been reported to happen at BACs as low as 0.07.  

These behaviors will increase the likelihood of a blackout:

  • Drinking on an empty stomach
  • Drinking too much too fast
  • Drinking high-proof alcohol (i.e. hard liquor)  

Prevent a blackout

Cause for concern

Experiencing a blackout is a sign of concerning alcohol use.

If you are concerned about your alcohol use, consider scheduling a meeting with a BASICS provider.

BASICS is a free and confidential educational program where you can explore your drinking behaviors in a non-confrontational manner with a skilled provider. With the BASICS provider, you will collaboratively discuss your alcohol use, explore the consequences of your drinking-related choices and plan how you might reduce future risks. 

If you are concerned about a friend's alcohol use, you can suggest that they check out BASICS.  You can also learn more about how to talk to someone whose drinking concerns you.


Dewey,  J. (2015). Blackouts. In S. Martin (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of alcohol: Social, cultural, and historical perspectives. (Vol. 2, pp. 271-274). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:

Lee, H., Roh, S., & Kim, D. J. (2009). Alcohol-Induced Blackout. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(11), 2783–2792.

White, A. M. (2003). What happened? alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain. Alcohol Research and Health, 27(2), 186-96. Retrieved from